Sensory Friendly Events Provide Inclusion for ALL Families!

by | Nov 18, 2016 | P2P


Sensory Friendly Events Provide Inclusion for ALL Families!

Last fall, my good friend Jill told me, in tears, how her family had attended Boulder’s Nutcracker every year – like so many families – as a beloved, multi-generational holiday tradition. But, she added, they stopped going when her child started showing signs of being different.

On a related note, I just opened an email from another mom friend, Mel, who asked if she should forgo the Nutcracker this year, because her daughter will most definitely try to climb on stage – she can’t help it, Mel writes, because like my own daughter, hers has autism.

My favorite story comes from a father, Tim, who bravely endured 18 years of “stink eye” because his daughter had to attend Barney concerts. You would think the purple dinosaur crowd would be used to noises and scant compliance!

So many people outside of our world still don’t realize how families like Jill’s and Mel’s and Tim’s– and mine – are shut out from experiencing the professional arts.

But today I bring some very uplifting news that we all need, because Boulder’s and the state of Colorado’s most important inclusive event is coming Nov. 23, at 2 p.m., when Boulder Ballet and The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra open the doors to CU’s Macky Auditorium to let our families inside.

It’s being called The Gentle Nutcracker – a sensory friendly event that welcomes those who need to vocalize and perhaps switch seats, or even to leave the auditorium and head to a sensory break room. Or twirl. Or elicit joy in the body and heart.

This past summer, Boulder Ballet, The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Imagine!, Dayspring, the ACL Association for Community Living (ACL), as well as Macky tech staff and managers, and my own grassroots group, Brainsong: No Shushing Events, have been meeting and planning to offer Boulder and the state of Colorado its first professional inclusive Nutcracker ballet. We have additional training from Autism Society of Colorado.   Benjamin Tarasewicz, who has autism, is our emcee!

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, photo credit:  Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra

This is huge!

I’ll repeat – the first professional Nutcracker with a full live, orchestra, full sets and costumes, that is welcoming to kids and families who are different but no less deserving. We follow Pittsburgh, Houston and Cincinnati, who already have a professional sensory friendly version of the world’s most ubiquitous ballet.

It’s happening because inclusion is important to Wrenn Combs, Boulder Ballet’s Executive Director, and to Ana Claire, its artistic director who is equally driven to make the world a more welcoming place. The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra’s forward-thinking Music Director Michael Butterman has made diverse audiences a priority this season, and so has the director of community engagement, Cynthia Sliker.

That we have an entire live, professional orchestra as part of this new Nutcracker tradition (which by the way makes it easier to control volume) is testimony to a cultural change afoot in Colorado.

From my experience, so many organizations want to join in this movement, they just don’t know how. One of the wisest women I know, Ailsa Wonnacott, Executive Director of the ACL, says, “it’s not rocket science. There just has to be a will to embrace humanity.”

I think we are finding humanity through the arts.

The Nutcracker is the perfect venue for cultural and social change, because after all, it is a universal story that ultimately teaches us how we can be our very best.

This holiday season, if Sarah or any child like her feels the need to stand on their toes and twirl, or make a joyful noise to join in Tchaikovsky’s magical score, no one is going to judge them; no one will shush them and their parents won’t have to explain for them being their perfect, exquisitely delightful quirky selves.

No Shushing Events with Boulder Ballet, June 2016; Photo Credit:  Jill Marshall

To find out how to purchase tickets to the Gentle Nutcracker, and other sensory friendly events, please visit

Please allow me to thank everyone who has donated to this cause, especially Carl and Rhonda Benton, Family Home Health’s Joe Stanton, and our planning committee, including Julie Hartman, Jamie and Kate Adams,, Rojana Savoye, Rudy Betancourt, and John Jungerberg.  Boulder can be proud, and so can Lafayette with its support from EC2 (Empowerment Center of East County), the ACL (Association for Community Living) and Imagine’s Ania Young, who heads its Behavioral Health Services, and Caitlin Looney and Kate Hines of Dayspring, who trained volunteers.

Julie Marshall is a mom to Sarah, 12, who has severe autism and learned to speak full sentences through music. She is a longtime journalist and community activist. She is the founder of BrainSong which promotes “No Shushing Events”
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